Fighting Back

Porsche 968 ClubSport vs Maserati Ghibli Cup

In a battle to survive the dark days of the early 1990s Porsche and Maserati went hardcore. Do they still have the skills to thrill?

Words Sam Dawson Photography Lyndon McNeil

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As far as cliché is concerned, the 1980s was Porsche’s decade. The mix of Group C race wins, reliability and an association with success meant six-figure production runs for the 924 and 944.

Over in Modena, Maserati spotted an opportunity to enter this new world of mass-market exotica. The Biturbo, and later the 222-era cars, were the result. 

However, come the early-1990s recession, the everyday exotica market vanished. Both marques needed a new strategy, but with their cashflows choked off they had to be based on proven mechanicals, yet reworked for a new market. Salvation lay on circuits, with track days and single-model race series blooming in popularity. 

Porsche was the first to cherry pick this market by focusing a new car on it. The 968 Club Sport, evolved from the 944, featured a stripped-out interior, stiffened anti-roll bars and seats adjustable by Allen key. Unusually, it charged less for this special edition.

A year later, Maserati’s Ghibli – in essence a 222E with Quattroporte IV bits nailed to it – spawned a customer race series, called the Open Cup, and a roadgoing version of the competition cars. The Ghibli Cup had Momo bucket seats, stiffened suspension and a screaming 2.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with, at 330bhp, the highest per-litre power output yet seen..

Nowadays, the near-double price differentials between these variants
and the standard 968 and Ghibli II models they are based upon reflect their special status as superior driving machines, the finest of their respective – sometimes corrupted – bloodlines. 

However, they’re far more important than that in the Modern Classics universe. Without them, would Porsche and Maserati even be around today? 

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As far as cliché is concerned, the 1980s was Porsche’s decade. The mix of Group C race wins, reliability and an association with success meant six-figure production runs for the 924 and 944.

Over in Modena, Maserati spotted an opportunity to enter this new world of mass-market exotica. The Biturbo, and later the 222-era cars, were the result. 

However, come the early-1990s recession, the everyday exotica market vanished. Both marques needed a new strategy, but with their cashflows choked off they had to be based on proven mechanicals, yet reworked for a new market. Salvation lay on circuits, with track days and single-model race series blooming in popularity. 

Porsche was the first to cherry pick this market by focusing a new car on it. The 968 Club Sport, evolved from the 944, featured a stripped-out interior, stiffened anti-roll bars and seats adjustable by Allen key. Unusually, it charged less for this special edition.

A year later, Maserati’s Ghibli – in essence a 222E with Quattroporte IV bits nailed to it – spawned a customer race series, called the Open Cup, and a roadgoing version of the competition cars. The Ghibli Cup had Momo bucket seats, stiffened suspension and a screaming 2.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with, at 330bhp, the highest per-litre power output yet seen..

Nowadays, the near-double price differentials between these variants
and the standard 968 and Ghibli II models they are based upon reflect their special status as superior driving machines, the finest of their respective – sometimes corrupted – bloodlines. 

However, they’re far more important than that in the Modern Classics universe. Without them, would Porsche and Maserati even be around today? 

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Porsche 968 Club Sport

It’s a harsh, unyielding world inside the 968 Club Sport. Padding on the Recaro racing seat is wafer-thin, door cards are near-featureless save for a manual window-winder, and the black, plasticky dashboard could have come out of a 1990s supermini – at least on 944s this dash was often treated to swathes of colourful cloth. 

There are no rear seats, and you get the impression that specifying a rollcage would have been more logical than a radio. It’s a message beyond that of mere driver-centrism – this car’s focus is on winning races, or nailing every apex on multiple track days.

I turn the key, expecting a yelp followed by a restless bass-buzz, but I’m met with a quietly undistinguished four-cylinder fizz. Prod the accelerator and the predominant sound is a big-lunged gasp rather than an unrestrained roar. Could the track modifications be shoestring posturing rather than genuine poise? The standard 968 was heavily criticised for being too luxurious, expensive and remote in a 928-lite manner when new.

Thankfully it only takes a few seconds behind the wheel to realise the extent of the Club Sport makeover’s effectiveness. The ride is choppy on uneven surfaces, but once on smooth tarmac that wheel pulses with masses of feedback, rather like that kart you thrashed on track on your stag do. In no way does it feel like a car with power steering and 205/55 ZR16s up front. It’s an intuitive steering rack too, with no dead-zone straight-ahead, the nose darting into country-lane bends with little more than a quarter turn of the fat wheel.

So far, so Porsche, but it’s the Club Sport’s behaviour mid-corner that sets it apart. Pitch a 924 hard into a bend and the body rolls noticeably. Do the same with a 911 and you have to keep your mind on the car’s imbalanced rear-engined physics to avoid emerging on to the next straight backwards. With this 968, there’s no nose-bob or side-to-side shimmy, just an impressively neutral 50/50 chassis stance that responds to mid-corner throttle adjustments, yet unlike a 911, backing off will bring its tail neatly back into line. Accelerate, and the rear-end piles on the grip as keenly as any rear-engined Porsche.

But it’s the engine that truly defines the 968. It was the first Porsche to receive the VarioCam system, tensioners lengthening the intake valve’s timing under throttle load. As a result, it always feels as though it’s in its torque band, rapidly reeling in an endless elastic horizon while the initial uninspiring underbonnet hum becomes an exhilarated scream as low down as 2000rpm. The flick-wrist six-speed gearchange is as compliant as the best Japanese sports cars, rather than the baulky walking-stick that protrudes from the floor of a pre-1989 911.

Admittedly it’s not as fast as a 911. However, from the perspective of a proper B-road hoon, it’s infinitely more compliant. And in the real world, that actually makes it the better car.

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Maserati Ghibli Cup

For a car derived directly from a GT-class racer, the Ghibli Cup feels almost too civilised, especially compared to the Porsche. There are imposing Momo bucket seats, but they’re beautifully upholstered in suede. There are usable similarly finished rear seats, a dashboard full of electrics – including the window switches – and although a strip of carbonfibre circumnavigates the cabin, it still has the famous ovoid carriage clock.

The driving position, as well as being more comfortable than the Porsche’s, is similarly well laid-out. The Momo
wheel in particular is beautifully sculpted, despite looking like part of a co-ordinated, yet still markedly aftermarket, budget cockpit facelift.

Turn the key, and the V6 burbles into life. Prod the throttle and there's a noticeably bassy undertone beneath the hissing turbochargers. Aurally it’s closer to a big V8 than a small V6.

The gearchange doesn’t slot home with the same sharp precision as the 968’s. Despite the hefty metal ball, the action is a plasticky-feeling short-travel click rather than a big-GT clank, lending it a feel closer to a hot hatch than a supercar.

Under way, despite the power steering, the Ghibli’s stocky 215/45 ZR17 front tyres lend the car a resistant, weighty quality. Initially this suggests the steering feel will be dulled but, once up to A-road speed, it’s clear it's dealing with an enormous amount of grip. What the 968 achieves with the balancing of engine and transaxle along the chassis, the Ghibli emulates with gluey foursquare adhesion to the road. Perhaps overcompensating for the Ghibli’s wayward older sister, the Biturbo, Maserati created a car that feels impossible to unstick, at least in the dry.

Naturally there are drawbacks to this. There’s no sense of mid-corner adjustability. Rather, you pick your line, stick to it and power out. As with TVRs of this era, there’s a sense that there’s often no progressive, gradual breakaway in cars with roadholding so apparently viceless, thus when it does finally let go of the road, you’ll probably be going too fast to regain control.

What it does give you is the confidence to use its colossal power. Accelerate hard down a straight, and that torquey burble hardens in volume and savagery up to 3500rpm, upon which the turbochargers sweep whistling into life, lifting performance on to a further, more aggressive plane. It’s no supercar – the 2.0-litre engine may have a phenomenal specific power output but it’s still a
1424kg car – but its behaviour is sophisticated, with none of the lag found on the era's overboosted shopping trolleys. You have to be smooth with the Ghibli, but power comes in progressively as you head for 168mph. Yet such is the torque that it’ll happily cruise down motorways too. 

In civilising a racer, Maserati built a true dual-role high-performance car and luxury GT all in one.

SPECIFICATIONS                  Porsche 968 Club SPort                   Maserati Ghibli CUP

Engine:                                   2990cc/4-cyl/DOHC                        1996cc/V6/DOHC

Power:                                    236bhp@6200rpm                           330bhp@6500rpm

Torque:                                   225lb ft@4100rpm                            275lb ft@4000rpm

Maximum speed:                   152mph                                               168mph

0-60mph:                               6.2sec                                                 5.6sec

Fuel consumption:                 19-32mpg                                            22-25mpg

Transmission:                          RWD, six-speed manual                    RWD, six-speed manual

HOW MANY LEFT?                 66                                                       24

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Buying tips: Porsche 968 ClubSPort

Some dealers are passing off Sports as Club Sports by aesthetically modifying them. While they are similar in terms of suspension, it isn’t possible to replicate the specification with the Sport exactly. To spot a real CS, look for manual windows, a glassfibre panel in place of rear seats and a pull-cable release for the rear hatch. There shouldn't be mountings for rear seats, either.

Detailed service history is a must, and take care leafing through it. Look for evidence of the exhaust camshaft belt and tensioner, inlet camshaft chain and balancer shaft belts having been changed every 50,000 miles. 

A whining sound from the rear end signifies a worn pinion bearing in the transaxle assembly, which requires a lengthy gearbox stripdown and rebuild at a cost of £2000. 

Although the Club Sport’s ride is understandably firm, any knocks from the suspension are usually the sign of worn-out dampers.

Brake caliper baseplates can lift up when the aluminium corrodes, causing the brakes to bind. It makes it impossible to fit new pads, so people bodge it by grinding them. A £150 per brake stripdown and rebuild is the only solution.

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Buying tips: Maserati Ghibli Cup

Make sure it’s complete, as some basic parts are virtually impossible to get hold of now. Tail-light clusters, trim, plastic bumpers – if they’re missing or damaged, getting hold of them isn’t easy. 

If the engine warning light stays dark on start-up, this suggests someone has unplugged it to conceal a fault, and very few specialists will have the Marelli diagnostic equipment to track down the problem.

Rust attacks Ghiblis from underneath. Also, water collects just below the bonnet hinges, causing rust that allows the electrical system to get wet. Budget for undersealing on purchase.

Make sure you're buying the real deal. Back when these cars were nearly new, many owners fitted Cup trim and badges to standard Ghiblis when the spare parts were readily available. Confusing matters, there were two Ghibli Cups – the 330bhp roller-bearing-turbo 2.0-litre, and the ‘hybrid’ Cup which teamed the Cup chassis with the Ghibli GT’s 285bhp 2.8-litre engine. The hybrid will be easier to live with, but not as sought-after as an investment. To tell the difference check the ID plaque on the front crossmember – genuine Cups are stamped AM577, while GT engines are AM496; they also have an ECU per bank rather than a single ECU.

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The Modern Classics view

Both these cars were born of the same urge – to use motorsport credibility to change the image of their respective brands, as everyday exotica was unfashionable and, thanks to the recession, unaffordable to anyone but a lucky few.

Both succeeded. The Porsche 968 Club Sport sold to the burgeoning track-day market, and sired the bigger-selling 968 Sport with its rear seats and electric windows reinstated. For Maserati, the Ghibli Open Cup race series raised the marque’s profile as a builder of exciting performance cars.
A new era of well-built and competitive Maseratis began soon after the Cup, with the 3200.

For cars conceived for such similar reasons, they achieve the same goals in dramatically different ways. The hardcore Porsche feels light and flighty yet utterly controllable, every aspect of its dynamics built around the balance of its transaxle layout. Some 911-bred Porsche purists might find it lacking in mechanical intrigue, but in doing so they’d overlook the sheer compliance available. It’s entirely possible a 968 Club Sport could outhandle
a normally-aspirated 964 on a circuit whose bends make it more about handling than acceleration. Ultimately, it demonstrates the inherent excellence of the then-20-year-old 924 platform, and the rewards of Zuffenhausen thoroughness and polish. Porschephiles should accord it more respect.

The Maserati Ghibli Cup, on the other hand, is a beautiful silk purse, the stitching lines around the remnants of sows’ ears barely visible. It’s the result of radical corrective surgery rather than antiseptic evolution. Thanks to its G-force-bending roadholding and torrents of power, it will achieve the same on track as the Porsche, but will feel altogether more dramatic – and, dare we admit, a tad scary – while doing so.

However, there is one factor that swings this test in the Maserati’s favour. It manages to be a genuine GT and a tarmac-gobbling sub-supercar at the same time. The 968 is too single-minded by comparison. It seems near-perfect in isolation, and yet so far as bald figures are concerned, the Cup is on the pace.
It might have taken Maserati a decade to get the Biturbo/222 right – but when it did, it created an all-time great.

This article appeared in the January 2017 issue (issue 8) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Killer Redhead

The standard Testarossa too boring? Not '80s enough? Don't worry, you could plump for Koenig's astonishing 800bhp remix. Hang on and enjoy the ride. 

Words Rob Scorah Photography Neil Fraser

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What do men with power want? More power. So if we extrapolate that, what do men with a supercar want? More power, a body kit and an exterior colour-coded cabin. Fair enough, but what if the soon-to-be empowered supercar is already one of the most flamboyant machines to have taken to the road? Things are going to get outlandish, that's what. 

Behold the 1987 Koenig Ferrari Testarossa Competition Evolution II, the ultimate incarnation of one of the 1980s' most potent bedroom wall stars. Depending on what angle you catch it from, you may be thinking F40, custom drag racer or 512M. The latter was a later addition by the third owner, who thought the standard Testarossa nose just too prosaic. So he sent it back to Koenig for further surgery. All this isn’t so much gilding the lily as giving it an aluminium weave stem and razor blades for petals.

In its day, the Testarossa had some stick from the old guard as being too much the poseur, a hairdresser’s car – and one without competition pedigree at that. Men who yanked the Daytona’s recalcitrant parking-speed steering with one hand sighed and shook their head. But a standard Testrossa looks relatively restrained next to this mass of ducts and spoilers. And the interior's positively sombre.

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When describing many supercars, we might gloss over the interior – but here, it's to be celebrated. This is a symphony of excess. Open the door, and there's a sudden rush of red – of a shade you might more expect to see in Liberace’s tour bus. When you’re sitting in it, in bright sunlight, that interior starts to glow. If, no doubt like some of Koenig’s more ‘artistic’ or hedonistic clients, you had had a few heavy or otherwise ‘interesting’ nights, you might think that some kind of psychedelic experience was kicking off behind the wheel. 

In place of Ferrari’s standard, tombstone seats, there's a pair of moulded, high-backed and shoulder-embracing structures that look like they will hold you firm when the ordinary Testa's benches let you slide sideways when the cornering forces that this car can generate take hold. 

OK, we're trying to ignore the vibrant blue ‘Koenig’ script on the four-point harnesses, (look at it long enough and the letters will burn into your retinas), but they too are an improvement on the usual same-as-a-Fiat-Uno seatbelts. And lastly, there's the steering wheel. Thicker, slightly smaller and with moulded thumb grips. Oh, and it's red. Very, very red. 

Still, unlike the original designers, Liberace and his assistant did acknowledge that you might be generating some serious forces in this machine, and they furnished you with the body and hand-bracing tools to wrestle with it. Other than these items, the cabin is pretty standard, except for one final hint as to the nature of this thing; the speedo now goes up to 320km/h (200mph). 

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Time to drive this bespoke 1980s monster. The sun is streaming through the glass, and we're looking between the plush stitched leather and the tiny Perspex sliding window. It's easy to believe that this car might have some identity issues. And with ‘the glow’, we're feeling the need for painkillers and sunglasses. And we're not even hungover. But otherwise, we're ready. Bring it on.

‘On’ is the usual ignition key, and start-up is a snuffling whinney, a snort. That's then a whumf, which settles into a menacing growl of a slightly more nervous pace than the standard idle. It's an angry-sounding car, this.

Knowing how much power has been pushed from the big horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder sitting quite high behind your right shoulder, it’s quite a surprise to feel the usual benign clutch of a Testarossa. And, like its standard cousins, the monster trots off slowly on little more than tick-over, grumbling to itself as it goes. Apart from the row, it could be a Mercedes-Benz trickling forward such is its docility. Lamborghini would have done well to take note.

As soon as you think that though, you reach down to click through the open gate, going from first – close in by your thigh – to second, forward and to the right. It’s a little stiff of course, at least until the oil warms up. Idling towards a main road, there’s time again to take a deep breath and prepare for what's about to happen.

Once again, it's time to take stock of the super-wide bodywork, but from the perspective of the driver’s seat.The Testarossa’s standard mirrors – generally quite good ones by supercar standards – have been replaced by angular and elfish little ears. There doesn't appear to be any way of adjusting them. The far side one gazes into space, while the driver’s one stares down the assorted ducts of the rear pod. So we’re going to have to rely on the centre mirror, which does its best to peer out of the engine cover openings and under the F40-style rear wing.

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By now, we’ve reached wide, black tarmac and the Koenig’s ready to prowl. There’s a lot that’s familiar Testarossa – the supple ride, the smooth spooling up of power. It may say 'Competition' on the wide door sills, but thankfully no one’s seen fit to harden up the suspension to the point of blurring your vision. Dampers and springs dismiss potholes with a far off thud. You feel nothing through the seat and the car tracks straight. The front wheels take a little notice of ruts and grooves, but a grip of the steering wheel keeps the front where you want it.

Yes, the Testarossa was a great tourer, allowing very low-input progress when you wanted it. But a quick stab of the throttle and a down-change will remind anyone that both Koenig and the Testarossa held secrets that could so easily be unleashed. The tacho needle jumps, the engine tone hardens, and, even in this weighty GT, the change in pace is immediate.

Go in too hard and you’ll hear a guttural hiss from the rear and feel a slight wiggle through the seat as the big beast’s huge rear tyres break traction under the power. Complete with tyre smoke, it's a party piece at low speed, but really it just breaks the Ferrari’s rhythm and poise. Better to roll your heel steadily, grip tightly and hang on.

The delta-winged sled hunkers down, digs in and takes off like a jet on a steam catapult. It makes the ferocious mechanical noises you'd hope for from an 800bhp projectile. Accompanying this is a rorty yarp rises from the exhaust, while the instrument needles climb quickly through some alarming numbers. The absurdity of where you’re sitting then flashes across your awareness – the boudoir leather combined with racing seat rigidity, the reclining driving position and the shoot-from-the-hip gear change flowing all this power through the cogs. 

It’s kind of automotive glam-rock. And as tight bends approach, you wonder what this sizable rig will do, though glancing this way and that to try to get any kind of framing reference from the mirrors is useless. At least you can always have confidence in a Testarossa’s steering, the nose turning in a reassuringly exact answer to the twisting of the wheel. And no matter how much lock is applied, the car seems to be tucking itself in tighter. 

The body roll of the standard car has gone, presumably tied down by the heavier duty springs and anti-roll bars. The big GT’s stance is neutral, no fighting to make it turn under power, but equally little reaction if you muck around with the throttle mid-bend. Though probably best not to try that on an 800bhp Testarossa’s limits.

But it's amazing that, despite the Ferrari in a Rocky Horror ball gown appearance, the machine just deals with anything you through at it. Autobahns – obviously. A-roads, lots of fun. B-roads, still pretty nimble. 

Foolhardily, yes, it could follow a Caterham into narrow country lanes, and give it a damned good run for its money – at least until the Koenig’s rear end jammed between the hedgerows and the Caterham scurried away. Apart from the insane width, the car is a testament to both maker’s and modifier’s ability.

Of course, the Koenig is great at devouring continents with ease. You can drive from Calais to Geneva without breaking a sweat. It excels at blasting down coastal highways, its banshee wail drifting towards the mountains inland. Perhaps the greatest travesty against the car was Ferrari’s muting it with a muffling exhaust and too soft a suspension so as not to upset its plutocrat clientele. But Willy Koenig freed up the Testaroosa’s inner hooligan.

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The Modern Classics View

Firstly, it's probably worth getting the real world stuff out of the way first. The Koenig modifications – as time progresses – will probably leave this Testarossa worth less than its unmodified cousins in a market where originally means everything. It'll be harder to sell, too, as well as maintain, should you chip its bodykit or kerb a wheel. 

But does that matter when you have 800bhp at your disposal, and are driving the ultimate incarnation of 1980s bedroom wall poster excess? The Koenig is an astonishing car – it allows for you to dial in as much or as little wildness as you want at any given moment. It’s a comfortable tourer, now with added ‘vividness’.

The engine is superbly tractable, though if you plod through rush hour traffic, it takes on a ‘chorus of the damned’ moan just to emphasise its boredom. What is the ultimate satisfaction of this thing is that, with a snap of a gearchange and dab of throttle, it's transformed.

As quick as the needles flash across their dials, the Koenig morphs from grand barque to destroyer, from elegant tourer to molten Nismo street racer. It leaves hot black tyre trails on the tarmac and its exhaust yowl scorches into the walls. And then back again – all in time for tea at the marina.

We hope the original owners of these boutique hotrods knew they are best taken with a slice of irony and a wicked sense of humour. That they should revel in these creations, but not take the whole thing too seriously. You'll have an awful lot of fun that way.

This article appeared in the June 2016 issue (issue 5) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Civic Unrest

The Honda Civic Type-R is one of the finest analogue driving experiences you can get. With the numbers of decent cars thinning out, now’s the time to buy.

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Laurens Parsons

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Performance

  • 0-60mph:                6.6sec
  • Top speed:              146mph
  • Economy:                33mpg

HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R EP3

  • Engine:                      1998cc/4-cyl/DOHC
  • Transmission:            FWD, 6-speed manual
  • Power:                       197bhp@7400rpm
  • Torque:                      145lb-ft@5900rpm
  • Weight:                      1204kg

If you’re struggling to understand why the Honda Civic Type-R is now an investment opportunity, we understand. After all, many thousands left its Swindon birthplace, and it seems like only yesterday that the streets were filled with the unmistakeable whine of EP3s charging around. More recent still is the memory of poorly modified examples. We know what you’re thinking – surely there are too many of them around?

But we need only look at the precedent set by the Peugeot 205 GTI. Top-quality Pugs worth waving your well-earned at are now £10,000, with truly exceptional examples trading for much more. The Honda is now at the same stage the Pug was at just 10 years ago. The difference between the very best, low-mileage cars and the ones you wouldn’t touch with someone else’s are getting further apart. Values are already strong for the best examples and, like the 205 and the 206, the replacement wasn’t quite as good.

This means the Civic Type-R has a bright future. The very best cars are worth seeking out and tucking away now. Still unconvinced? Let us show you why it’s such a good buy in the perfect place to demonstrate its skills – Wales.

Forget your preconceptions. Forget those tedious internet memes about VTEC kicking in (yo). Forget the badly modified Civic Type-Rs angrily trundling around Maccy D’s on a Friday night, their tailpipes so huge even Rocco Siffredi would feel inadequate. All that matters about Honda’s EP3 is what happens at 6000rpm.

This is when the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system makes its presence known. At higher rpm oil flow forces a slider pin through the camshaft rockers, which in turn locks the 'VTEC' profile and the low-rpm rockers together into one large rocker. The cam lobe that's now acting on the valves has a different profile designed to maximise high-rpm power output – and evoke Cheshire cat-like grins from those behind the wheel. Where other hot hatches would give up at 6000rpm, the Civic is thirsty for more – around 2000rpm more.
Get into this heady 6000-8000rpm zone and you’ll be relishing the pure, analogue zest. It’s the kind of palm-sweating, synapse-sizzling excitement that only comes when an engine’s screaming, the cabin’s resonating and the outside world is just a series of indistinguishable browns and greys. Head into a corner, thrust the ideally-placed gearlever down the close-ratio gearbox and let the revs sing as the Civic scythes through the apex. Boot the throttle, feel the extra shove come in past 6k, then bang up through the gears as the rev needle slams around the dial faster than you can blink.

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But let’s calm down a bit and take stock – you have to appreciate what a change of pace the EP3 Type-R was for Honda. Of course, it wasn't the first Civic to wear the hallowed badge, but the EK9 Type-R was never officially brought to the UK. The EP3 Type-R was designed and built in Swindon – and you can sense the British B-road-honed quality throughout. 

A colleague describes the EP3 'R' as about as close as you’ll come to riding a motorbike on four wheels. He’s not wrong, though in the bleak midwinter in southern Wales, we’d much rather be in the Civic. The interior is enormous; there’s lots of space in the footwell and plenty of headroom. The centrally-mounted, rising gearlever frees up knee space and there’s even room in the back. The bright red Recaros are beautifully supportive, though some of the interior trim is overly plasticky and even on this sub 45,000-mile car shows signs of wear.

But this isn’t a car for smugly analysing the density of the interior plastics. Nor is it a car whose looks provoke eulogies, though it’s not ugly. The Type-R may not be beautiful, but it is purposeful and neat – quite an achievement, given the normal Civic was a blobby sub-SUV by this time. 

The engineers got around the problem by lowering the ride height by 15mm. The result is a car that’s sweetly poised, and one that seems subtle these days compared to the brand-new Civic Type-R. 

But the best fettling can be found under the skin. The Type-R uses variable timing control (VTC), which hydraulically adjusts the degree of overlap of all 16 valves, constantly adjusting them based on engine load. This adds up to a flatter torque curve than previous Type-R lumps. Though peak revs come in at a vertigo-inducing 7600rpm, 90 per cent of its 145lb-ft of torque comes in at 3000rpm – so once past that threshold you’d better hold on.

The gearshift itself is perfectly located, allowing you to pull off touring car-style ratio changes like a pro, although there is a caveat. Going across the gate requires an aggressive shove – as does dropping from sixth to fifth. Forgetting this on the motorway and falling victim to the 'box’s eagerness to centre, means you may find yourself in third, and probably deaf. This isn’t a car that responds well to the gentle touch. That’s part of the appeal, though. Pulling away requires a Noise Abatement Order-baiting dollop of revs and cruising at 30mph means 4000rpm in fourth. It appeals fully to your inner 21-year old.  

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On the other hand, it shows a maturity in its handling that’s far beyond its greatest inspiration, the Peugeot 205 GTI. Whereas on period tyres the French offering would ping you into the nearest bit of scenery at the merest suggestion of the revs dropping, the Civic Type-R is much more benign.

True, there’s a sense of numbness through the steering wheel, but that’s just the car telling you to try harder. Start gnawing at the edges of the chassis’ extremities and the steering livens up. And it’s not murderously twitchy like a MkI Focus RS, either. Push the Civic into a corner and it’s as flat as a Fenland relief map, understeer only coming in when you’re being an absolute muppet. Lightly back off and the nose will simply tuck in. 

Torque steer only becomes a problem in the wet, under serious provocation. Turn-in is fantastically judged, and the Civic is so easy to place you can nail every apex. The 300mm ventilated anchors up front give you all the faith you need too.

Honda fitted two extra struts at the bottom of the front bulkhead; another nestles between the rear wheelarches. The dampers and springs are firmer than the standard Civic, and there are stiffer roll bars fore and aft. So the ride is firm – but it’s not flummoxed by B-road undulations, which gives you plenty of confidence to push harder. The more vicious you become, the more the car comes alive. It positively thrives on it, almost seeming disappointed if you change up before 6000rpm.

It’s about as close as a hot hatch gets to a full on racer, certainly this side of the much more specialist (and expensive) Renault Megane R26R. Get the engine singing past 6000rpm and all your senses tingle in time to the engine, your heart beats faster to the howling torrent flowing through the bulkhead and you’ll want to keep on driving until forced to stop. 

The Civic Type-R is very focused, to the point of sacrificing luxury and refinement, but its analogue highs will have you salivating at the thought of your drive home. It’s not for everyone, but once it’s got its hooks in, you’re under its spell.

Now, can we have another go, please?

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The Modern Classics View

If ever a driving experience elicited pure joy at the expense of common decorum, this is it. It’s noisy, it’s in your face, it’s not for those who like to relax. But if you find it is your thing, very little else comes close for the money.

That’s at the very heart of why this car has such a big future. We’re now entering the age where owners are moving away from outrageous mods and cherishing low-mileage examples. Facelift UK cars with sub-60k miles are now around £6k-7k. Decent cars start at around £4500-5000, and below that it becomes a bit of a lottery. While the Civic Type-R is a hardy creature, diligent oil changes with the right stuff are key – no car is infallible, and more than a few will be hiding crash damage.

In five years the best low-mileage examples will top £10,000, which will drag up values lower down the chain. But it would be a shame to see Type-Rs become static garage queens – they were built to be driven, hard. Anything else would be missing the point.

That might seem a bit of a paradox – hard driving with one eye on future values – but the EP3 is the exception that proves you really can have your cake and eat it. Great to buy, drive and own. What are you waiting for? 

This article appeared in the May 2017 issue – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Rolling Double Six

Some cars lead charmed lives; some have chequered histories. But these BMW E24s are now so good, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

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They say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

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they say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

It’s May 2013 and Taylor Hetherington is training as a car mechanic. Across the yard is a council lock-up, and one day he notices the door hanging off to reveal a BMW 635 CSi showing signs of vandalism. Taylor, anxious to protect a nice car – whoever it belongs to – screws the garage door shut.

A year later, the car still hasn’t moved and Taylor’s never seen the owner. But he discovers the Council are planning to demolish the garages. ‘If the Council try to find the owner, and fail, they scrap the car,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t going to let that happen.’

So he applies for a V5C through the DVLA, which means the last known keeper would definitely be contacted. They would probably reply, and once alerted to the dangers of the car’s abandonment, would retrieve it. And if they don’t, the car would find a willing new owner in Taylor.

They don’t. But Taylor is still keen to do the right thing, and having seen the previous keeper’s address on his new V5C, he goes round to the house to make sure it really is okay to take on the BMW. ‘The lady who answered the door was fine with it,’ he says. ‘She even gave me the original set of keys.’

The owners were demoralised by the vandalism and lost interest in the car. So what had Taylor taken on? ‘It needed tyres, brakes, a new battery, a damn good service, but it also had rust in the front wings and underneath near the rear axle mounts.’

That was a problem. Taylor, still new in his chosen trade, hadn’t yet mastered the MIG welder. The damage wasn't too severe, and so with the rear screen and side quarter glass replaced, the worst of the vandals’ dents and scrapes tidied up and new springs (lowered by 35mm), Taylor took to the road. 

 He would have been surprised to see another 635 CSi on his home patch. Yet only a few hundred yards away lived a black 1986 car – Taylor’s is early ’85 – with a manual 'box rather than the auto Taylor was getting used to. But it wasn’t often seen because its owner, Gavin Spencer, drove a Corsa as his daily. After all, this 635 was special.

Gavin’s grandfather had a particularly good day back in August 1986. He gained a grandson, Gavin, and ordered a BMW 635 CSi. He used it to commute but retired it from daily use after only two years, when he also retired from full-time work.

All for the best. With the ZF dog-leg five-speed and no cruise control or air-con, it’s more B-road blaster spec than the chilled, cruise-enabled automatic that Taylor found himself with. But those B-road qualities were what stuck in Gavin’s mind.

‘I went to visit my grandfather when I was 14 and we went out for a drive – a very rapid drive – in the 635. It’s a very fond memory.’

Sadly, Gavin’s grandfather suffered a stroke not long after that. The car sat in the garage with very little use for at least ten years, but it wasn’t neglected. A local mechanic attended to any servicing needed. 

‘A few years ago, I heard my grandfather had decided to sell it,’ says Gavin. ‘Someone had made an offer, but when I said I was interested he said if you want it, you can have it.’ Gav sold his CRX and stepped in.

With just 37,000 on the clock, Gavin’s 635 took on the status of a well-polished family heirloom. He found a set of 8-Series split rims to avoid paying £400 a corner for metric TRX tyres. He also went to the odd BMW classic car event, like the meet-up at the Ace Café. And there, he saw another 635. When they realised they lived close to each other, each was glad to have a local ally. 

‘I’d learned to weld by this time,’ says Taylor. ‘I dropped the rear suspension beam, diff and all, and repaired the rust near where it mounted. While all that was accessible I cleaned and repainted everything, servicing the diff and checking the limited-slip clutches for wear.’

A set of braided brake lines future-proofed the car’s stopping power and Taylor moved forward to the other rusty bits. He fixed a hole in the offside toe-board and then discovered that new front wings were £800 each. So Taylor fitted a pair of second-hand ones, performed a sill-end repair and applied plenty of rustproofing wax. Finally, it went for a full respray. A set of rare 16in BBS Mahle wheels finished the job in March 2016. From 111,000 miles as found, Taylor has quickly rattled up to 123,000.  

Time for us to sample the goods. Sitting in Taylor's Diamantschwarz (metallic black) 1985 car, you can't help but feel like a bit of a playboy. The wraparound dashboard and comfortable Pearl Beige chairs transport you to an era of pre-GATSO motorway blasts, where chainsmoking executives in such big coupés would charge from London to the Midlands without dropping below the ton. The slim pillars and huge expanses of glass give you incredible visibility, and help to make the interior seem much bigger than it actually is. This is seriously easy living. 

Taylor's 635 rides firmer than standard, and the unassisted steering feels heavy through the thin, aftermarket Nardi steering wheel, but it's still relaxing. Until you nudge the accelerator into the carpet, that is. 

There's an audible and physical thunk as the three-speed ZF 3HP22 autobox drops down, giving you a satisfying, urgent surge; the M30/B35 issuing a rasping shriek to all those who dare to get in the way. 

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As exciting as Taylor's car is, it's only the warm up for Gavin's. You may wonder why his grandfather spent all that extra money on a close-ratio, dog-leg ZF manual and an LSD with 25 per cent lock, when he could have bought an M635 CSi. 

With his older E24 taken in as part-ex, Gav's grandad paid £28,850 in 1986. With 1989 figures to hand, an M635 CSi cost £48,000 – £110,846 in today's money and
a price difference equivalent to an entire E28 525i. That £1000 LSD option seems like a bargain.

 Gav's fitted a Fritzbits exhaust, and that makes the six-cylinder sound glorious at full revs, a howling scream that makes your ears grin as much as an M3 at full chat – it's almost as exciting as an M635 CSi. 

The standard-fitment steering wheel is more confidence-inspiring in the corners than Taylor's Nardi, with accurate, tight turn-in and plenty of info for your fingers to digest. And you'll be glad of that when it comes to braking for a corner.

All E24s have long brake pedals, with all the force arriving at once after what feels like an aeon. It's a system that needs getting used to, but put your faith in it and you'll soon be stringing corners together like a pro. And once you do you'll understand that with a manual, this is just as exciting as more exotic, Italian cars. The rampaging zing from the tailpipes helps, and it feels so much faster than the bald statistics suggest. This is a properly quick, supremely engaging car. 

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These two cars are very different, both showing the dynamism of the E24 breed. Taylor's evokes the modifying scene of the late-1980s and early 1990s, all sinister, brooding menace. Gavin's shows what this big GT could do with its hair let down. Both are a credit to their owners.  ‘We both really appreciate the 635,' says Taylor. 'I loved the idea of giving a car a new lease of life.’

Gavin’s experience has been about preservation, but his car also means a great deal to him. ‘When I got the 635 from my grandfather, he said: “You can pay me for it or it won’t seem like something that’s worth looking after.” He’s passed on now, but he was absolutely right. I’m very glad I had the chance to keep it in the family.’

 

Words: Nigel Boothman and Nathan Chadwick

Images: Neil Fraser

 

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Modern Classics magazine. For a longer version and extra pictures, click here to pick up a copy. 

Priced out of the E46 M3 market? Fear not…

The modern classics market is hot for BMWs at the moment.

We’ve seen everything from Z3M Roadsters to M635 CSis surge in value over the past few years. 

Anything with the propeller badge with a big engine is likely to be dragged up in value, which includes the E46 330Ci. It’s already seen as the poor man’s M3 but you’re only really down around 100bhp and it’s cheaper to insure and run.

The 330Ci is a great rational sports coupé. It’s practical, comfortable, largely well built and capable of long journeys without wrecking your spinal cord. Okay, it doesn’t have the kudos or performance of an M car, but it’s much more rewarding on the road.

It’s also a lot cheaper – the very best 330Cis are around £8k – and costs less to tax and run, you don’t have to buy all those M Power specific bits. That figure will only get you into the shabbiest M3, and one with an SMG at that.

Pay £8000 for the best manual you can find and we forecast it’ll be up to £11k in a few years’ time.


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7.3 litre AMG R129

A V12 Mercedes SL not enough?

Don’t worry, we’ve found an AMG R129 with a whopping 7.3 litres.

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A Mercedes-Benz AMG SL72, one of just 35 built, is to be auctioned at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in June 30th.

Based on a 1995 SL600, AMG bored the V12 engine out to 7.3 litres, which meant that the performance grew to 525bhp and 553lb-ft of torque. That means the SL can surge to 185mph, with 60mph just a memory after 4.6 seconds. It was such a potent package that Horacio Pagani chose it to power his Zonda.

It was also such an appealing package that the Sultan of Brunei ordered 25 of them... in one go! This, however, is one of only 10 sold privately, and is one of very few badged as an SL72.

It was serviced last year and found to be faultless, and comes with a panoramic glass sunroof – to see if any helicopters can keep up, obviously – and has wonderful 18in alloy wheels.

Up for grabs with Bonhams at its Goodwood Festival of Speed sale on June 30, it’s got an estimate of £70k-£100k. Do you reckon that’s an accurate estimate? 


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Why ‘90s supercars beat the best the ‘80s had to offer

Everybody waxes lyrical about 1980s supercars. They’re great – don’t get us wrong – but the sheer diversity that followed in the 1990s means that there’s something for everyone. It’s also the era of car that’s currently providing the hottest gains in the market.

We have properly old-school V8 brutes, six-cylinder screamers and even a rotary wonder. All of these cars will quicken the pulse faster than Pamela Andersen in her 1990s prime.

The Porsche 911 Turbo 993 is the last of the air-cooled hooligans, and offers synapse-splintering speed. And though it has four-wheel drive, it’s not a numb experience as our journalist finds out. Values have risen considerably – but is there still more to come?

The Ferrari F355 brought Maranello back from the brink – and how. With truly beautiful styling, spine-tingling sounds and fantastic handling, it won back many enthusiasts. Now those former teenage enthusiasts have money to spend – but has the market topped out?

The Honda NSX was the car that caused so much trouble for Ferrari – quick, slick and easy to use, it was a supercar that could be used every day. Prices have started to firm up – but where might they go now?

The TVR Cerbera married light weight with a huge V8, with truly eye-popping styling. For years it’s been the preserve of a hardened core – but could its time for wider appreciation be just around the corner (sideways)?

The Lotus Esprit V8-GT provides precise handling and turbocharged V8 shove, this is possibly the most exotic car to come out of Hethel. But does that mean it’s worth taking the Lotus position – as in, in your garage?

The Mazda RX-7 FD is the curvaceous, drift-inclined, stripped-down rotary-powered alternative to the norm. But does its reputation for histrionics hold it back as a true supercar contender?

FIND OUT BY READING THE FULL FEATURE IN OUR JUNE ISSUE


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B-Road weapons attack the tarmac

The May issue of Modern Classics is on sale from May 5th and, as usual, is over-brimming with features

We take a group of the smallest and most engaging hot hatches to Wales and remember what these cars are all about… having fun behind the wheel. But which of the five junior hot hatches is the fastest and most furious?

The poster supercars that adorned your teenage bedroom wall were invariably highly multicylindered, possibly Italian, bewinged and incredulously fat of tyre. Ultimate Top Trumps winners, they remain the perfect willy-waving ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ choice.

But here, on a seriously showstopping sequence of north Welsh roads a car such as a Lamborghini Diablo would be maximum overkill. Power thunderously out of a tight corner in first gear, and, er... remain in first; next bend, brake hard, accelerate in first and repeat, over
and over again…

What’s the use of hitting 65mph with your initial cog or doing 98mph in second? Pah, it’d be as entertaining as carrying out a Prince Albert on yourself using a javelin. No, up here, much less is much more. Time to invert your thinking and vote SNP (Small, Nimble and Punchy).

We’ve gathered five of that party’s finest candidates for you to consider. So will it be BMW’s new take on the old Mini Cooper S, the cutesy VW Lupo GTI, Ford’s hot Fiesta ST150, Pug’s stripped-out 106 Rallye or the Suzuki Swift Sport sleeper that takes the miniature hot hatch honours?


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